Bill Gates: My biggest mistake? Not making Android

In the cut-throat world of software, it is winner takes all. And on mobile, Google won it, according to Bill Gates.

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Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has revealed that his "greatest mistake ever" was failing to get the Windows-maker to do what it was born to do: make the world's top "non-Apple" mobile operating system. 

Microsoft crushed Apple in the early 1980s and 1990s, but its fortunes in the late 1990s and early 2000s took a wrong turn. 

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)

And it seems Gates partially blames Microsoft's antitrust problems over its handling of Windows in the 1990s for allowing Google to pounce on mobile, capitalizing on similar antitrust issues to the ones Google itself faces today

"In the software world it's very particular for platforms… These are winner-takes-all markets. So the greatest mistake ever is whatever mismanagement I engaged in that caused Microsoft not to be what Android is. That is, Android is the standard phone platform – non-Apple platform. That was a natural thing for Microsoft to win," Gates said at an event hosted by a US venture capital firm

Google released Android just 10 years ago and it now has over two billion monthly active users, which is more than double the number of Windows 10 users and a great deal more than the 1.5 billion Windows users Microsoft claims to have.     

Microsoft, of course, crushed Apple on the desktop with Windows as the non-Apple operating system. But Microsoft famously missed the boat on mobile with the launch of the iPhone, which former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer branded as "the most expensive phone in the world, and it doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard".

He would later laud Apple for its "model of subsidizing phones through the operators". 

"It really is winner takes all," Gates continued. "If you're there with half as many apps or 90 percent as many apps, you're on your way to complete doom. There's room for exactly one non-Apple operating system. And what's that worth? $400bn that would be transferred from company G to company M," said Gates, referring to Google and Microsoft, respectively.

"And it's amazing for me to have made one of the greatest mistakes of all time, and there was this antitrust lawsuit, and there's things that, you know, our other assets – Windows, Office – are still very strong. So we are a leading company. If we'd got that one right, we would be the leading company," he said.

"There is this idea that just small differences can magnify themselves. That doesn't exist for a lot of businesses. You know, if you're a service business, it doesn't exist. But for software platforms, it's absolutely gigantic. And so that's partly why you have the mentality that every night you think, 'Am I screwing this up?'. And eventually we did screw a super-important one."

US venture-capital firm Village Global has posted the Bill Gates interview. Source: Village Global/YouTube


Bill Gates: "Every night you think, 'Am I screwing this up?'. And eventually we did screw a super-important one."

Image: Village Global/YouTube

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